How We Work Together

Notes from the shared governance open session, Friday, November 8, 2013, 2:30–4:00 pm.

Overall Topic

How We Work Together – How the culture of shared governance plays out in communication among the various constituencies of the College community.


These notes were taken as a reflection of the ideas shared at the session.  They aren’t meant to be precise, nor to reflect who said what exactly.

50–60 attendees

Introductory remarks were given by Professor Max Hailperin.

A few minutes were spent with neighbors talking with each other about subtopics they would like to comment on and in what way.

When is each model of interaction appropriate?

There is a spectrum of shared governance interactions, including the following:

  • One body has the responsibility to make a decision without even consulting others.
  • One body deliberates and makes the decision after consulting other bodies for input prior to deliberation.
  • One body deliberates and makes a preliminary decision after receiving input; another body is expected ordinarily to ratify that decision.
  • One body deliberates and makes the decision, iteratively consulting with other bodies at multiple points within the deliberation.
  • Multiple bodies jointly deliberate and then one body makes the decision.
  • Multiple bodies jointly deliberate and jointly reach a decision.

When is each model appropriate? Are there others?

  • Faculty decide curriculum.  However, Board makes financial decisions that may affect curriculum.  Need an effective process for communicating back and forth between Board and faculty regarding specific decisions.  Constituents want to be heard.  Important to have a democratic process in decision-making. 
  • Work together collaboratively in face-to-face discussions or back and forth communication?  Determine best information process given the circumstances. 
  • When working well, constituents feel they have stake in the decision.  Better decisions are made when the process is consultative and ideas are heard along the way.
  • Need understanding of whose responsibilities align with a specific decision being made.  Need good collaborative process back and forth.  Clarify who makes what decisions.
  • Resource allocation is large problem. Idea was Internal Budget Committee making preliminary decision, Cabinet ordinarily ratifying. How do we create a better process for allocating budgets? 
  • Determine the size of issue.  Why are some decisions determined to be not as important when it affects others at their core?  However, if trust exists, decisions should not be as painful. 
  • Part of effective leadership is acquiring ownership in the decisions and providing a logical rationale for making a specific decision. 
  • Frustrating when budget decisions are made and employees don’t know about the situation until after the decisions are made.  Important for constituents to be heard before decisions are made. 
  • Collaboration of informing people is super time-consuming. Discipline is needed for planning ahead in making decisions.
  • Some decisions need to be more nimble.  Manage the process in a way that trust is established and maintained.

How do we manage disagreement when it naturally arises?

  • Question suggests a concern about disagreement rather than invites disagreement.  Disagreement should be valued for seeking better decisions.
  • Accepting disagreement should be part of the culture to make the college richer.
  • There is a difference between disagreement and conflict.  Disagreement should not be a concern.
  • How do we refrain from and eliminate conflict?
  • Disagreement is good but when you have open dialogue, moving forward after committing to a decision is somewhat difficult for people.  Work toward moving forward after a decision is made.  Let go of disagreement at that point.  How do you effectively foster disagreement and commit to moving forward?
  • Learn from experts to help community to communicate better.  Talk about realities of hierarchy. 
  • Possibly use a conflict resolution consultant.  While you are having disagreement or dealing with a conflict, do not focus on “how I can get my way.”  Ask what is mutually important to all of us.
  • Good to keep in mind what is important for the institution.  However, all of us have own interests at the college.  Important to recognize that as well.  Conflict arises when people feel that individual interests of certain constituents are being marginalized or neglected.  Possible that specific groups/programs at the college feel decisions are always going against them.
  • Make decisions for the sake of students.  Consensus is not easy and committing is difficult and hard to move on from there.  If you want to hear the best ideas, you need to listen to others.

How do we agree upon expectations for information sharing and conversely, for confidentiality? What are the boundaries?

  • Are there expectations for exchanges between faculty and Board that everyone would feel comfortable with?  What would be the appropriate ways for the faculty and Board to interact?
  • Difficult to be a faculty representative on the Budget Committee when the representative is not allowed to talk with others about the discussions of the Committee.
  • It is not just about faculty, trustee, administrator, and staff.  There are different expectations generationally.  Opportunity to recognize differences beyond normal expectations.  Huge range of expectations across the generations of what transparency and expectations mean regarding sharing information.
  • Concern about confidentiality.  How does one deal with a situation when confidentiality agreements were signed and information is given that is perceived to be dishonest? 
  • One of the most important forums for sharing information is faculty meetings.  President should be in attendance at faculty meetings to share information with faculty to build trust. 
  • Create a focused strategic plan to guide the resource allocation process.  Set defined priorities to help allocate resources.  Process allows for transparency.
  • Always felt that especially administrative staff were discouraged to talk with Board of Trustees’ members.  Is that a real perception? 
  • No official limits on contact with Board of Trustees.  Board does not feel constrained in having contacts with college constituents.
  • Feel sometimes that the college has an hourglass shape of communication.  Trust and sharing has to happen at all levels.
  • Perception is that the college has become more hierarchical in past years and information flows in one direction.  Felt information flowed more horizontally in earlier years.  Administration and gatekeeping of information has changed in the last number of years -- drifted in last 25 years but more precipitously in last 5-6 years.
  • Pitfalls arise when confidentiality is used in disagreements. 
  • Need understanding of confidentiality and boundaries.  Be respectful of others’ ideas and listen.  Faculty members need to have option to inform Board members what is happening on campus.

The most basic sense of “accountability” is being expected to justify decisions. What should accountability look like within Gustavus’s shared governance?

  • Board of Trustees has fiduciary responsibility for the college and makes final decisions with long-term interests of the College in mind. 
  • Set of conversations should happen prior to decisions being made.  Frustrations come when decisions are made without conversations about the issues.
  • Implicit negativity about justification need not be there when a democratic process is used in making decisions.  Discussions are then meaningful about why decisions were made in a particular way.
  • Sense that the college does not have a defined communication structure.  Biggest complaint from employees in most companies is that there is not enough information sharing and communication.  All employees need to be good listeners, know communication process, and take ownership. 
  • Clear definitions of roles and responsibilities should be clarified.  Foster culture of respect and seek ideas from those who may disagree and have a differing perspective.  Stretching is where growth happens.

Open discussion

  • Systemic and chronic things have happened, i.e., budget committee.  Acute flashpoints tilt conversation more so than the chronic things.  Where are we on the scale of having chronic or acute problems at the college?  Feel we have acute problems that we are afraid may become systemic.
  • At what point do each of the groups identify with hierarchy?  We each limit ourselves when we only talk within our groups. 
  • Incredible challenge of balance.  Better decisions are made with more information. Need solid efficient structure and mechanism for exchanging information to help make good decisions. 
  • Absolutely crucial that in order to have efficient decision-making, we all have to have a collective understanding of the mission of the institution and what objectives are needed to improve the institution.  Need long-term, common understanding of where the college is going. 
  • Before coming to Gustavus, sensed the passion of mission and community at Gustavus. Need extraordinary communication to move forward.  Everyone’s voice needs to be heard and everyone needs to feel they have been heard.  Everyone should feel sense of safety in communicating to others.  Need someone to champion fostering communication.
  • There is no current structure or venue for formal communication among administrators. 
  • Board’s revision of governance structure is more inclusive for others to be involved.  However, the move toward inclusiveness is one more level further away from where faculty were involved with the Board in earlier years. 
  • Term “shared governance” implies different perspectives.  How should differing perspectives be managed when they arise? 
  • Need structure for communication.  Hope new president will be aware of function of communication on campus.
  • If trust is broken in an organization, all employees have to work hard at building trust, and communication is a big piece of that.  Once operating out of a feeling of trust, we assume the best of people.  When operating out of fear, we assume the worst.  Need to practice communicating and build relationships.

More Ideas? Couldn't Attend?